Though visually-pleasing and illustrative at a first glance, Toyin Odutola’s drawings are constructed on a foundation of hard-hitting critical theory about how we view race. The Nigerian-born, American artist’s works are rich with ink. Odutola focuses on her subjects’ skin, outlining ridges and contours with ribbon-like sections that make the work appear almost sculptural despite its flatness. Odutola’s focus on the skin is not accidental — she has stated that she wants to trace the skin, like a cartographer, in order to map out the idiosyncrasies of each individual subject. In doing so, Odutola meditates on the idea of “blackness” and how black people are portrayed and perceived.
Since we covered Odutola in 2012, she has created several new series. “Gauging Tone,” which features subjects drawn with a metallic sharpie on black board, focuses on issues concerning the ways black people perceive one another. The black and gold series “Of Another Kind” nods to the excessive, ornate aesthetic trends of the Renaissance. But Odutola lifts her subjects from a context of servitude ubiquitous in European art history (think, Manet’s Olympia), removing them from a specific cultural setting and opening up possibilities for their individual identities. Odutola currently has a solo show on view at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, on view through January 25.